Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (T13)


  Even since the publication of "Sea Fishing", the already parlous state of fish stocks on which UK fishermen depend has deteriorated further. The OSPAR Quality Status Report (2000) for the North-East Atlantic shows that two-thirds of commercial fish stocks are now below "safe biological limits", including all those listed for the North Sea. Recovery plans, involving widespread closures, have been put in place, but with no guarantee of success, at least in the short term, for the beleaguered fishing industry. A worrying response to the shortage of whitefish is the capacity shift to deepwater fisheries (mostly unhindered by quota restrictions), inflicting unacceptable damage on fragile slow growing stocks and their environment, an issue in which the UK Government has been more constructive than most.

  It is therefore increasingly urgent that a management strategy is established that simultaneously sustains all fish stocks, their critical habitats, other marine wildlife and dependent fishing communities—placing a huge onus on radical revision of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 2002.


  1.1  In responding to the Committee's Recommendation 2: "that the government establishes a clear, agreed and coherent strategy for the management and development of the UK fishing industry", the Government highlights its broad objectives for improving the CFP. Given that the Commission's Green Paper on the review of the CFP has now been presented to the April 2001 Council, it is now most relevant to evaluate the Government's stated objectives.

  1.2  We strongly endorse the first of the Government's listed objectives—"integrating environmental considerations more fully into the CFP to make it a more effective instrument for the conservation of fish stocks and the wider marine environment". However, the scale of the challenge should not be under-estimated. The current CFP is fundamentally at odds with the goal of sustainable development and this deficiency must be addressed in the 2002 review if the UK Government is to achieve its objective. Council Regulation 3760/92 which sets down the provisions of the existing CFP gives implicit priority to the sustainability of the fishing industry arguably lower priority can be read into "taking account of the implications for the marine ecosystem".

  1.3  This imbalance has been recognised in the EC's Fisheries Biodiversity Action Plan and its Integration Strategy (to be presented to the Gothenburg Summit In June), as required by the "Cardiff Process". The Green Paper also concludes that the CFP's objectives are imprecise and suggests (Article 4) that a new objective should be "to establish responsible and sustainable fisheries that ensure healthy ecosystems". The Green Paper goes further (Article 5.1.1) in arguing the need to "develop an ecosystem-oriented approach to all areas of fisheries management". This language is echoed in Article 31 of the Swedish Presidency Council Conclusions on the Integration Strategy.

  1.4  The RSPB urges that an explicit objective of the revised CFP should be an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management.

  The RSPB recommends that the Government should endorse the creation of a new objective in the revised CFP to adopt an ecosystem-based approach to the management of fisheries—as called for in the Swedish/Presidency's Council Conclusions on integration of environmental concerns into the CFP. Such an objective is needed to reflect Article 2 of the Treaty and cannot be compromised.


  2.1  The RSPB's recent report "Managing EC Inshore Fisheries: Time for Change" argues strongly (as did the Committee's "Sea Fishing" Report), for the retention of existing fisheries limits but with changes to the way they are set or managed. The CFP restricts access by foreign vessels to national territorial waters (up to 12 nautical miles), with access prohibited altogether within an inner band (commonly up to 6nm, as in UK). This open access derogation expires on 31 December 2002 unless (as expected) it is reinstated. However, this repeated need for renewal makes the derogation vulnerable to being used as a bargaining chip. Moreover, its current rationale is to "keep foreign vessels out" rather than a positive management tool to protect against fishing that potentially damages the interests of the host Member State.

  2.3  The RSPB believes that Member States should be given the power and freedom to develop their own inshore fisheries management frameworks throughout their territorial waters. Such regimes could be better tailored to particular economic, social and environmental needs at the national, regional and even local level. Reform of the access restrictions should include:

    —  Renewing the inshore access restriction after 2002 and making it permanent;

    —  Giving Member States the power to manage fisheries throughout their territorial waters (ie up to 12nm) including "foreign" vessels (if their fishing methods are sustainable).

  2.4  The RSPB's call for national control out to 12 nautical miles is also supported in reports by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, the Association of Sea Fisheries Committees, the Shellfish Association of Great Britain and by the Wildlife Trusts. Most significantly, the Commission's Green Paper has also now addressed this issue: Article 5.5.2 states that Member States "could in future be empowered to adopt conservation measures applicable to all vessels operating in those areas".

  The RSPB recommends that the Government supports the extension of exclusive national control of territorial waters out to 12 nautical miles, as recommended in the Commission's Green Paper.


  3.1  The Committee recommended that Total Allowable Catches (TACs) be set on a multi-annual basis where stocks are not threatened. This was accepted by the Government, which pointed out that most stocks are threatened. The Commission's Communication of December 2000 emphasises that the repeated annual postponement of stringent TAC-Setting measures by Ministers has contributed to undermining stocks. The Commission further echoes the Committee's conclusion that multi-annual TACs would better enable the industry to plan ahead. Consequently, the Commission is looking at setting fisheries effort over a three to five year period.

  3.2  The RSPB welcomes the long-term strategic thinking behind the Commission's proposal. We also welcome their observation (Green Paper, 5.1.1) that in the mixed fisheries of Community waters, "it may be preferable to manage groups of stocks for well-defined fisheries". In this context, we believe that the annual December round of TAC-setting is an anachronism. The December 2000 Fisheries Council set TACs for several species in the knowledge that recovery plans for these species would start in early 2001. The TAC decisions were therefore not only piecemeal but potentially narrowed the options for other possible elements (such as area closures) of recovery plans. Moreover, as we have seen with cod and haddock, it makes sense to consider recovery plans for related whitefish stocks, as the Green Paper indicates.

  The RSPB recommends scrapping the annual setting of TACs in the case of species for which a recovery plan is needed or ongoing. The priority for the Commission should be to establish a coherent set of recovery plans in which a TAC is but one possible option.

30 April 2001

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